Animal shelters shun euthanasia to help pets find homes

by Saiji Shizume

Kyodo News

The central government is rallying behind local governments in turning facilities where abandoned dogs and cats are euthanized into shelters where the animals can find new owners.

The Animal Protection Guidance Center in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, a city with many warehouses and plants, is a forerunner of such shelters. The dogs are let out in a garden where center employees take them for walks. Inside are ventilated, temperature-controlled “private rooms.”

“I think we can wipe away the old prisonlike image,” said Tetsuji Kusa, a section chief at the city’s health center who helped from the designing stage to turn the pound into a shelter.

“We are trying to achieve zero disposal and keep dogs and cats that become attached to people. We kept one animal for seven months until a new owner was found,” he said.

Fusako Nogami, representative of Alive, an animal protection organization in Tokyo, said such centers are still few in number. “Many facilities pack dogs and cats into concrete-reinforced rooms with no air conditioning or ventilation and dispose of them in gas chambers several days later.”

According to a nationwide poll by Alive, about 100,000 dogs and some 210,000 cats were put to sleep in fiscal 2007, while about 30,000 dogs and some 6,500 cats were returned to their owners or found new homes.

In recent years, however, people, mostly those in urban areas, have come to regard pets as members of their families and keep them in their homes, reducing the number of those brought to pounds. About 650,000 dogs and cats were disposed of in 1997, but the number has halved, and those handed over to new owners are gradually increasing.

As the number of dogs and cats brought to pounds decreases, the centers can now have some leeway, enabling them to extend the period before disposal. The Environment Ministry also plans to start in the current fiscal year to extend subsidies to turn such facilities into shelters.

But there are many problems before zero disposal can be achieved. Many cats that are euthanized are stray kittens. Unless the cats are neutered, like domestic cats, facilities say they must keep euthanizing them.